Linebacker visited military bases in Iraq and Kuwait
BY STEVE KORTE

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon spent a week walking in the sand this winter, but he wasn't vacationing on some island paradise.

Witherspoon was one of four NFL players who toured U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait.

"We were all around Iraq," Witherspoon said. "We were pretty close to the border of Syria. It was kind of crazy all over the place.

"The whole experience itself, the best of it for me was that the troops were more excited to see us because the troops were like, 'Man, you could be on the beach in the Bahamas somewhere hanging out and doing whatever, but to come out here and say you want to spend time and hang out (is great)."'

Witherspoon, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen and New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark visited troops as part of a USO mission to build morale.

"We really got to hang out with the troops and really got to meet the guys who were escorting us around and really see what being on the base for the entire day was like," Witherspoon said. "Part of it was you were hopping around so much you really didn't get good time to spend with people and talk to them, you were kind of rushed a little bit.

"But I think, all in all, it was probably one of the best experiences I've ever had."

Witherspoon said the only bad part of the trip was getting "dusted in" one day and not being to meet with any servicemen.

"Yeah, there was nice little dust storm. Not a sand storm, but enough dust in the air that we probably couldn't see the wall from here," Witherspoon said, pointing to the wall of the Rams' indoor practice facility about 20 feet away.

Witherspoon is a self-described "Air Force" brat. His father served 20 years in the Air Force, and he was stationed at bases in Germany, England and the U.S.

Witherspoon is fluent in German.

Witherspoon said he considers the soldiers serving in Iraq as true heroes.

"There's all kind of things that they face every day," Witherspoon said. "To have a cell phone on the base is like unheard of, because they can set off problems. Then of course, essentially feeling like you're landlocked on this little base. Two or three square miles is probably the largest base that we saw out there.

"These guys are making life every day and doing exactly what they need to, and doing it not only for our country, but to assist somebody else and make sure that things are in place to make sure they can stand strong on their own feet afterwards."

Witherspoon said he ran into Rams fans during his trip to Iraq.

"I met fans from everywhere," Witherspoon said. "It's kind of funny that they actually gave them a little reprieve and let guys wear their (team) colors."

Witherspoon has played middle linebacker for the past three seasons, but he's working at weak-side linebacker during the Rams' minicamp this week.

Chris Draft lined up at middle linebacker and Pisa Tinoisamoa played strong-side linebacker.

Witherspoon said he wasn't upset about the position switch.

"I don't care where I go," Witherspoon said. "I'm playing outside now and it doesn't really matter to me. Everybody asks me which is better, would I like to be in the middle or am I better outside? It doesn't matter.

"If I'm on the field, then I'm on the field. I just want to play."

Witherspoon's size -- he's 6-foot-1, 240 pounds -- may make him better suited to playing weak-side linebacker.

-"To me, it doesn't really matter," Witherspoon said. "I was a lot lighter back in the day, back in my first couple of years in the league, and I did fine (playing middle linebacker) then. I don't really worry about weight."

Injuries were a big factor in a decline in Witherspoon's production last season. He had only 88 tackles and one sack last season after having 132 tackles and a career-high seven sacks in 2007.

Witherspoon battled through injuries to both shoulders and his groin. He's still recovering from arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.

"I wouldn't say I'm 100 percent yet, but pretty close," Witherspoon said. "I'm not missing any part of practice. I'm out here doing everything. If it were gameday, I'm probably not there yet.

"But otherwise, I'm just moving forward and making things happen."